MARRIAGE IN THE EYES OF GOD
Adapted from “An Introduction to Biblical Ethics”
By Robert McQuilkin
The Bible begins with a wedding and it ends with a wedding; the greatest love song in human literature is the center. Man by himself is incomplete. He needs a mate (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:3-6). So the first purpose of marriage is fellowship, oneness, and wholeness – is love. But there are many that are not experiencing this wonderful relationship because of selfishness. Consider the words of Robert Schuller:
Man’s greatest hunger is for acceptance and understanding. One reason our society is so infected with loneliness is that the spirit of selfish freedom has become so widespread. So we don’t want to risk losing our freedom by getting involved. We don’t want to lose our freedom by running the risks of making long-term commitments. We have a lot of lonely people today because the price of unwillingness to make permanent commitments is to live on a level where all relationships are temporary. Unless we are willing to surrender some freedom to make permanent commitments, prepare to pay the price of loneliness. Love ends loneliness, but love has a price tag. The price of love is commitment to continuity.
If we are to experience the fullness of God’s blessing, we are going to have to forego some selfish desires and seek to find it in the relationship God designed for us at the beginning.
Selfishness crops up its ugly head in another area: parenting. Ann Landers (Feb 1976) asked her readers, “If you had to do it all over again, would you have children?” Ten thousand people responded, and 70 percent said, “No.” Mail fell roughly into three categories: letters from older parents whose children ignore them, from younger people concerned about over-population, and from people with young children who find parenthood restricts their lifestyles. Once again the root problem is selfishness.
We will never experience the God’s original intention for marriage until we make God the center of our relationship. With God at the center, we will find oneness of heart and mind, oneness of body, and oneness in our relationship with God. Even the oneness of bodies cannot be fulfilling in its most satisfying potential unless there is oneness to some degree in spirit as well. Heart unity provides the basis for releasing the ultimate in physical ecstasy, but it goes far beyond the momentary physical thrill to a total-life mutual satisfaction and fulfillment.
The biblical standard for oneness and wholeness is love, which includes sharing of interests, activities, purposes, and goals. Of course partners may have interests and activities independent of one another, but their oneness of purpose and loving identity calls for open verbal sharing of all aspects of life. Communication is the channel of unity. Without it, true oneness will prove illusive.
But oneness is more than self-giving love and open communication, which can and often should characterize other human relations. These alone will not hold a marriage together for long. The romantic euphoria of the newlywed may soon be dissipated under the impact of the harsh realities of life in which two independent beings are shut up to one another, especially when the desires of one begin to impinge on the desires or rights of the other. Communication can be a weapon to destroy unity as well as a channel in which loving unity may flow. What then is the essential ingredient?
The key to a successful marriage and the cement that holds two people together for a lifetime is commitment, an exclusive contract relationship that is not negotiable. This is the only basis for true oneness in marriage. Without this commitment to fidelity and loyalty, any relationship, no matter how loving at the onset, is too fragile to survive. Without commitment, the relationship is too tentative, which undermines the relationship and the expression of love. One person who experienced this lack of commitment in a relationship testifies:
You can’t say to someone, “I love you. Let’s live together to see what happens.” On those terms, either of you can split at a moment’s notice. As a result you never really can be yourself or feel free to disagree without fear of losing the other person. You hold back. The relationship doesn’t get a chance to grow because it is based on a conditional acceptance which is the cover for the self-gratification of two people indulging themselves in what they politely term a meaningful relationship. Real commitment, on the other hand, says, “I am willing to spend my life with you to see grow.” Love alone will never be enough to hold two people together. It’s commitment that carries them over difficult times. Commitment is what God intended between a man and woman. Marriage is God’s intention of that lifelong commitment.
Marriage is a sign and demonstration of God’s character as the great covenant maker and covenant keeper. In a covenant, the crucial elements are fidelity and integrity, not emotion. In marriage, it is not romantic feelings, neither compatibility nor sexual adjustment that make success of the marriage possible, but the fidelity of one’s covenant vow. Covenant is the crucial center of life. Commitment, then, is the surest evidence of true marriage…and love is the greatest reinforcer of commitment. Just as two people committed to one another in marriage vows of love are not one until the physical union is consummated, so two who unite physically without the marriage commitment are incomplete.
The first purpose of marriage is loving companionship – the unity of two in a relationship mirroring the nature of God Himself (Eph. 5:22-23). One way to violate this unity from the beginning is to marry an unbeliever. For unity to be complete, oneness in spirit is the prime requisite. If the most important relationship in life is with God, how can a couple have unity at any real depth when one is with God and the other is not?
Marriage to an unbeliever also puts in jeopardy the second purpose for marriage – having children in a God-fearing home environment. If the believing partner gives up his relationship with the Lord, some measure of unity can be built on a godless foundation as if both were unbelievers. But the Bible prohibits such a union (Deut. 7:3-4; Neh. 13:23-27; 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). But if one is married to an unbeliever, they should stay married to them (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Though the union will be limited, it is better than divorce. The continuance of the marriage becomes the will of God once it has been consummated, then the Christian needs to repent of disobeying God for the union and assist in building as true a unity as possible in the mixed marriage.
The most serious violation of marriage is adultery. Fidelity in marriage maximizes the potential relationship between mates; it maximizes sex itself; it protects the more vulnerable wife; it provides the atmosphere needed for children to grow up as whole people; and it safeguards a person’s relationship with God. We were made for a loving, permanent, exclusive, secure, intimate relationship. But when physical intimacy is pulled out of the marriage relationship and used separately, it fouls the whole relationship. Trust can never be quite the same again; a third party often intrudes on the intimacy, in the mind of one partner or both. True unity is fractured. So serious is the rupture that Christ indicated it could legitimately be affirmed as total and permanent (Matt. 5:32), though this is not a recommended or required response to infidelity (see story of Hosea).
Fidelity in marriage is a special protection for the most vulnerable partner, the wife. She is more vulnerable because her deepest drive is not for physical sex so much as for belonging. When she shares her body in the secure bonds of permanent belonging, she is satisfied. But when the belonging is illusory or temporary or uncertain, she suffers loss at the deepest level, a loss that most men do not even understand, let alone experience.
Fidelity is also a prerequisite for the kind of home atmosphere that grows children in wholeness to maturity. The love, the faithfulness, the integrity, the loyalty are all essential elements. Infidelity tells a child, “Your mother is not worth much, and your father is a liar and a cheat. Furthermore, honor is not nearly as important as pleasure. In fact, my son, my own satisfaction is more important than you.” The greatest gift parents can give their children is the demonstration of faithful, loving commitment to each other.